Sidney Crosby: What We Saw, What We Missed

PITTSBURGH PA - DECEMBER 31: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on during practice for the 2011 NHL Winter Classic between the Penguins and the Washington Capitals on December 31 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Sidney Crosby's eventual return will show us what we've been missing.

Familiarity is awe's nemesis.

When we see something often enough, it loses its magic. When we can no longer be shocked, awe gets locked back in the safe and on we move in search of something else that might line up the tumblers and open the vault once again.

On December 28, the day I wrote this original draft of this story, we had become all too familiar with the story of Sidney Crosby.

At 14 he was already well-known across Canada. At 16 he represented his country in the World Juniors. At 17 he was the first pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

In his first year he was the youngest player in NHL history to score 100 points. In the next, at 19, he became the youngest to win the Art Ross Trophy and the first teenager since Wayne Gretzky to lead the league in scoring.

You knew how it went.

At the end of that second season he was named team captain, after turning it down mid-season, making him the youngest captain in league history. He won the Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP) and Lester B. Pearson Award (players' MVP) and became the youngest ever named an NHL First Team All-Star.

There were so many accomplishments, they started to blur.

The third year brought Crosby's only significant injury, but also his first Stanley Cup Final and a tie for the playoff scoring lead. The next, he became the youngest captain to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup.

We had even started to gloss over some of it.

In his fifth year, Crosby won the Rocket Richard Trophy, leading the league in goals scored for the first time. He won the Mark Messier Leadership Award for setting a positive example on and off the ice. During a break in the season he was chosen to be a member of the Canadian Olympic team, an alternate captain. In the second game, he scored the game-winning goal in a shootout. In the gold-medal game, he again netted the game winner. Against the United States. In overtime.

This was his sixth season.

He had a 25-game scoring streak, the longest since the end of the lockout. If they named an MVP at the halfway point in the season, the vote would have been unanimous.

That's the story. It's one with which we have become familiar, but it doesn't paint a picture.

Sidney Crosby is in the details.

We know the foundation for the numbers and awards is his legendary work ethic. There is always room for improvement in his game. Each offseason, he focuses on a particular facet. One summer, skating - now few are better. Another, faceoffs - has become one of the best. Last year, scoring goals - led the league. This off-season, unpredictability.

His career arc spans a handful more than 400 regular season games. I've seen most of them. I've seen his game and personality develop. From entering the league and earning a well-deserved reputation as a whiner (and, less-deserved, a diver) to skating through a season where he has pushed himself to the top of the heap, unquestionably the best player in hockey, playing the best hockey of his life.

I've seen the blind passes, the unbelievable hands, the amazing goals and even the calculated fights. But his last couple of months before the concussion were different. This video shows his natural hat trick against Atlanta. As I wrote here, the goals showed off Sid's amazing arsenal, including the best tip you may ever see:

This assist against New Jersey, after receiving a hard pass in his skates, is ridiculously good:

But it's more than skill. Earlier in the week, Crosby, among the league leaders in faceoff percentage, took advantage of the fact that Vernon Fiddler was kicked out of the right faceoff circle in the Phoenix zone for dropping his stick too early. Crosby duped the less-experienced Lauri Korpikoski, slid the puck forward, lunged and immediately fed a wide-open Malkin...

Who buried it.

With familiarity, awe gets discarded.

There are other awards, there is a biography. It bears repeating that he's only 23. But, don't ever get used to the level of hockey that Sidney Crosby is playing because you just never know how long it will last.

I was planning to publish a draft of this piece a few days after the Winter Classic. I was waiting to see if Crosby's scoring streak reached 30. It didn't. And then he didn't play again.

Hopefully Sidney Crosby comes back this fall and we see this all again. After his absence, we will again get to be in awe of his talent. Maybe his missing the second half of the season will make us appreciate him even more, knowing a bad hit could end his career. I hope that never happens. We missed a lot of magic these past five months. I want to be awed again.

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